Question: My wife rented a car at the Orlando airport from Budget recently. Even though she said she did not want or need the extra loss-damage waiver insurance, she was informed that her car insurance was "invalid" and that in order to rent the car she needed Florida insurance.
She reluctantly accepted the loss-damage waiver. It was on the flight home that she noticed the paperwork stated she did not need the insurance. I contacted Budget and it sent me a form denial, saying, "We have checked our records carefully and find that the LDW or CDW option was offered to you, and you indeed signed the agreement."
Can you help us get our money back?
— Todd Ramsdell, Omaha, Neb.
Answer:It sounds as if Budget pulled a fast one on your wife. The employee's statements contradict the company's own website, which clearly says the loss-damage waiver is optional, and "if you don't need LDW, don't buy it."
I don't know what happened to your wife at the car rental counter, because I wasn't there. But I've heard stories about the white lies car rental employees tell customers in tourist towns like Orlando and Las Vegas.
They apparently prey on people who look like they're from out of town and don't know any better, trying to up-sell them on profitable insurance policies. By the time the scam is discovered, it's too late — they're on a plane back home. Out of sight, out of mind.
Is that what happened to your wife? Maybe. What I am certain about is this: She bought insurance she didn't need.
Of course Budget's records will show she signed the agreement. Everyone does. But Budget can't know what the employee told your wife before she did, and that's the important thing. Did Budget refuse to rent her a car until she purchased the loss-damage waiver agreement?
The only way to prevent this from happening is to know your rights. Insurance is an optional product. Your wife was covered under her car insurance and chances are, her credit card offered her some protection, too. There's no such thing as a Florida insurance requirement, at least as it applies to your wife's rental.
I contacted Budget on your behalf. It called you, apologized, and refunded your wife's insurance policy.
Christopher Elliott is the author of Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals (Wiley). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the cofounder of the Consumer Travel Alliance. E-mail him at email@example.com.